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Dark tales from Goa


A collection of stories within a broader narrative, the book is a brave attempt.

It is an insider's look at all things familiar, and a confrontation with all that is unpleasant and stashed away in dark recesses — or in this case, the attic.

Tales from the Attic; Savia Viegas, Saxtti, Rs. 200.

If you're thinking susegad, carnival, sunny beaches and feni when you think Goa, you may want to alter your views with Tales from the Attic. A dark and brooding narrative about the inner workings of a state generally associated with its intoxicating air and carefree residents, Savia Viegas' debut novel takes you to the post-Liberation era in Goa — a time well before the hippy, the tourist and the budget airline eras that transformed the state into beach bacchanalia.

A self-published work, this is the latest among dark writings set in the sunny state (Sonia Faleiro's The Girl is another such work). It is the story of Marri, a schoolteacher who drifts into the nooks and crannies of her past under the influence of anaesthesia.

Back in time

Her journey back in time takes us to the village of Carmona and her childhood in Zonkar Vaddo where everything, from last names to blood kinship and local gossip, is shared. It is an insider's look at all things familiar, and a confrontation with all that is unpleasant and stashed away in dark recesses — or in this case, the attic.

The novel describes mixed local feelings towards the Liberation, ranging from apprehension to unhappiness, and eliciting responses such as "The Indians have come!" and "It takes a Salazar to rule". While Portuguese money is being exchanged for Indian rupees, Marri introduces the various characters in the book including her mother Preciosa, grandmother Aninha, father Tito, surrogate mother Thette and the slave-maid Coincao, among others. We are taken through Marri's potty training and her growing pains even as the narrative meanders to introduce local characters and features such as the village dandy, the local Hindu vaid, the ghost Minguellita and the neighbourhood photo studio.


Tales from the Attic is really a collection of stories within a broader narrative, as Marri turns sutradhar, narrating tales of other characters even as she records her own experiences. The novel is therefore largely about her interaction with the others — the Gaudda woman from across the border in Karnataka, the labourers willing to live in bondage in exchange for food and shelter and their son Khoniji, later baptised Jose, who sexually abuses her well into adolescence in the attic. Eventually, Marri finds herself in Bombay during the textile era, straddling a failed marriage in a big city even as she keeps alive her connection with her rural past.

Engaging but crowded

A brave attempt by Viegas, the novel does however display the rawness of a self-published first work. One is also left with the feeling of too much being said in too little time and the end is abrupt after an engaging but crowded narrative. The author confesses that this is a larger novel compressed into 129 pages and that working from a village has its own disadvantages. "There are more than a few errors that have been overlooked and it could have done with the skill of an editor from a larger publishing house," says Viegas who, tired of the high-handedness of larger publishing houses, took it upon herself to see this work through (the cover too has been designed by the author, who holds a PhD in Art).

Currently working on a sequel, she is keen to represent the rural voice of the real, and forgotten, Goa. "What we see today is a packaged Goa, reinvented by the hippies who sold Goa to the world, a mantle taken on by the government and copywriters who sold the beach culture that has come to identify Goa." The real Goan, she says, feels a sense of alienation and it is the finer nuances of this hidden village life that she wishes to portray.

Revealing insights

The novel is rooted in the author's own experiences of childhood in Carmona and is peppered with delightful colloquialisms and revealing insights into Goan culture. Women characters dominate the plot and narrative because the women she has known have been the stronger of the two sexes, says Viegas. The book itself has been published in the name of Saaxti (pronounced Saashti), the district that she hails from, on the southern coast. Having founded an organisation under the same name, this enterprising Fulbright fellow also works towards rural development through creative and cultural education. Currently working on the history of old family photographs in Goa for the ministry of culture, Viegas agrees that Tales from the Attic "carries the rough edges of a first work" although Part Two of the novel, she promises, will change all that. We look forward to it.

Novel by Savia Viegas released
The Navhind Times - Friday 9 March 2007

NT Staff Reporter
Panaji, March 8

'Tales from the attic', a novel by Ms Savia Viegas was released this evening at the Black Box, Kala Academy by the noted Goan writer, Ms Maria Aurora Couto.
Speaking at the function, Ms Couto described the novel as a mesmerizing tale of childhood memories seen from an adult perspective.
Ms Viegas disclosed that a lot of her writing draws inspirations and details from the "Zonnkar" traditions, the kitchen and is influenced by the old ways of narrations and story telling.

Tales from the Attic
Savia Viegas
Saxtti Foundation. Rs200
The last 15 years have seen a drastic transformation of the publishing industry in India. Today, the liberalised book economy is all about coffee-flavoured shops, preset channels of circulation and glamorous releases. Keeping in line with the hollowness of such economies that ride on cheap contract labour - ask the impeccably made-up smiling face behind the counter how much she gets paid - the publishing industry in India too relies on all kinds of cultural and snob-value subsidies. The per-book figures of English publishing, distribution and
returns is still embarrassingly low, even in mainstream houses.
It comes as a relief, therefore, to discover a book from a different economy. One that makes its own birth, as a creative as well as public artefact, so transparent. It's a self-published book and a jolly good read. I must confess I read it in a pre-global context - not in an airport or on a frenzied commute but amongst the quietness of a village that descends from the historical experiences being described in the
story. Using engaging and sophisticated prose, Savia Viegas brings to life a Goan village and turns the concept -of a Goan village, that is - inside out and upside down.
It is not the idyllic space that usually feeds our fantasies but a world where all the neuroses of human life are laid painfully bare. Much like Goa itself, which lures you through its promises of rural Utopia and then dramatically and unexpectedly reveals itself as violently urban.
Her version of family intrigue, adolescent passion, youthful rebellion, historical legacy and religious conflict get expansively played out within the deceptively small boundaries of the village of Carmona. They evoke many other similar narratives that Goa's robust literary imagination frequently throws up. But the interesting parts are the departures -when she inserts in controversial history straight from school-textbooks and writes about raw prejudice still wet with emotion. Ignore the few sub-editing glitches - a familiar hazard in such endeavours - and enjoy the story.
Rahul Srivastava

Writing is not about making a profit, but preserving memories of her sweet-smelling land and sharing those nuggets with whoever decides to partake of her literary feast. For the author, Savia Veigas, Goa is not just about the past, it's also about being mindful of the future, says Kurt Gidwani.

filled with memories

At first glance, Savia Veigas doesn't really seem like a writer. How ever, once this soft-spoken woman starts talking about her book, its conception and her little village of Carmona, you're hooked! Tales from the attic, her first book, gives the reader glimpses into a colourful Goan past.
The idea for the book came to her while she was busy teaching at KC College, Mumbai. She also taught MA students at Mumbai University. "I wanted to do more than just teaching, so I began to write over the night and give it to the students to read the next day. Many of them were students of art history, creative writing and the likes, so they were very interested to read my work. Some of them even took it home for their mothers to read. This book was touched by many hands," explains Savia.
Tales from the attic is a narrative of a woman who gets through a botched anesthesia attempt, goes into a coma and then re-lives her entire life. "The story
has very strong women characters. It's more of a women's novel, the men's lives are peripheral," she states.
Throughout the book, one will get glimpses into the Goa of the past. Savia Veigas came back to her roots, because she wanted to make a difference. She says, "The story is set in my village of Carmona. Most
of these villages evolved from a rural set-up and the topographical design reflects the sudden jump. We have the tourist road, the main road that goes to Mobor, letting all the merry makers loose on the beach. This road was designed for traffic, but it doesn't go anywhere near the heart of the village. That's where the church road comes in, the one that the tourists call the pretty road. When you pass through on this road, you'll see pretty houses, most of them built a long time ago, except for the occasional one done up by a sailor. Then we have the third road, though its not used now. This was built recently and reflects the current political situa
tion, because it was meant to make access to the prawn hatcheries a lot easier."
The state of the houses on the 'pretty' road is what moves her. She says, "Goa is changing over the years, many houses are just left to wither away. Those houses are like people, they shrink, which makes me very sad. I hope to do something about it someday. And all the while Goa laments the loss of identity. Why can't people come back and revive it? I lived away from Goa for so long, this novel brought me back!"
Now, she's busy work
ing on another novel, this one about Goan identity, called In the hour of the eclipse. Tales from the attic was self-published. Ask her why and she exclaims. "Our publishing networks work in a different way. It's more about the marketing. There are so' many stories waiting to be told - local stories, which will help retain the flavour and essence of a place. Perhaps, 20 years down the road, books like mine will remind people about how things used to be. The era of prawn-curry-rice might soon fade away!"

Tales from the Attic released

GOA News Desk

Writer Savia Viegas released her book Tales from the Attic recently. Written in biographical style, the book is about a school teacher who sees her past in flashbacks during a delayed return to consciousness after an operation. The narrative weaves its magic through a racy lyrical prose as it explores the inti
mate world of a Goan family. Veigas is an academic based in Goa who has contributed several research papers on history of museums and the social history of photography in various journals. A Fulbright Fellow, she is presently working on the history of family photographs in Goa covered by a grant from the Government of India. This is her debut novel.

The pathos-filled book is a melancholic story intertwined with several other stories that colour Goa's landscape of dogmas, superstitions and secrets. A way of life which governs the way the women characters lead their lives in the village of Carmona, just after Goa's Liberation, says Cordelea B Francis.

Tales from the attic' makes for an easy read on a Sunday afternoon. On the surface, the story revolves around the growing years of the young protagonist, a sickly Marri who grows up in the suppressed confines of her large bhattkar home in Carmona. The woman-centric home is occupied by Marri's maternal grandmother, Xamai, her maternal grand-aunt Thette, her sickly, forlorn mother, Preciosa and the orphan/ servant, Coincao.
At the very start of the book, Marri, a mother of two, is having her uterus surgically removed. During the operation, while under anaesthesia, Marri flashbacks to her childhood days in Carmona.
The quiet village in south Goa, resplendent for its beautiful large homes, ancient gnarled fruit trees and deep-rooted secrets and superstitions, is the setting for Marri's childhood. Mumbai, like for many Goans at the time, forms the backdrop for her later years.
At a deeper level, Marri's life reflects the jerky progress Goa has made since Liberation. Thus, Marri begins her trip down memory lane with Goa's Liberation. Through her life, the lives and traditions of Goans unfold, revealing traditional home remedies, agricultural practices of divining water and building bunds. A sprinkling of Konkani and Portuguese words lend a feeling of quintessential Goa. Here, italics and footnotes would have been helpful for those who don't understand Konkani.
Marri's family, who owns the only radio in the village, announce to the villagers that the 'Satyagrahis had won', unaware that Goa's freedom would be their imprisonment. Marri, like the other characters in the book, is fettered by social norms, family secrets, superstitions, ancient curses, and the confusion of straddling diverse cultures, yet zealously they hold onto religion, not
with 'wisdom' but with 'stoic' faith.
Like many of the bhattkar houses of Goa. Marri's home too. is entombed by its family secrets, which lurk in the attic and like the acidic bat droppings in the attic, they poison the lives of the people who live below, usually causing death like when a ladder is deliberately unhinged as Jose clambers up. Sickness and ailments trail the lives of the characters, symbolising the disease with which newly liberated Goa suffers. Preciosa (mai) and Tito (pai) suffer from typhoid and cholera, Preciosa suffers greatly during child birth, the psychologically-scarred Marri suffers from febrile convulsions, Thette suffers the stigma of childlessness, Xamai suffers the cruei death of her son and the paralysis of her husband.
The simple-minded Coincao is probably the only character unaffected by illness, but then, she is the adopted child-cum-servant whose poor mother gave up for adoption. However, her blind faith in St Francis Xavier is tinged with unhealthy zeal as in-between her household chores, she spends the remaining time collecting hair from her prayer book, hoping to witness the miraculous

power of the saint.
In the midst of the larger story of Marri's troubled childhood, smaller stories abound - folklore, myths, fairytales and the life-changing events that finally bring the characters together to reside under the attic, sharing lives over the sickly, defiant, rebellious, molested Marri. "Out would come the stories from within stories, one wrapped around the other like onion skins...'
Preciosa, too delicate of health to care for Marri, relinquishes her motherly duties to Xamai and Thette, described as her 'bodyguards' and 'jailors'. Marri, not only reflects a newly-born Goa trying desperately to find its own identity, imposed upon by her step mothers who tie talismans, stitch petticoats, breed leeches to suck away high fevers, and stuff her with medicines like the prescribed Gardenia, Calmpose and Agarol.
Prompted into a natural tendency towards rebelliousness, the trait continues into Marri's adolescence when she moves out of the porno quarto and into the attic, following the footsteps of her renegade ancestor Ela, a name that holds the key to unlocking the family's secrets, and a name which explains the family's grey-green eyes.
The men in Marri's life are one-sided characters. Her progressive father who drives a car and installs electricity, usually defies her mother, by giving into his daughter's tantrums of buying expensive hampri dolls. Zemarri, is the family's man Friday. The young, hot-blooded Jose, born to his run-away Karnataka parents, regularly forces Marri to play his games' and 'not to tell'.
'The suffocation of this silence', like many untold truths, simultaneously connects the present with the past and, with one desperate act of frustration, when the ladder is flung from the attic, the spell of Ela is broken, allowing Marri to move ahead into the next part of her life, towards marriage, children and a career.
Of course, the scars lead to a dysfunctional marriage, but Marri finds grace in her children and in carving out a future for herself, while losing her wounded womb.
Apart from a few typos, "Tales from the attic' is a good first try for author Savia Viegas. The story unfolds easily, but some characters, like Xamai and the more interesting and earthy Thette could have been developed more.
Humour and story-telling ease the rather melancholic lives of the characters, along with some refreshing phrases which make themselves more visible as the story progresses, obviously, as Savia began to enjoy the art of story-telling, feeling more comfortable in her new role as author.